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Gay Characters in YA Novels

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Is It Really That Big a Deal? Gay Characters in Young Adult Fiction

  • May 4, 2014
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Okay, so this isn't a review in the conventional sense of the word, much like my "Women in Anime" review that I wrote a while ago, but my blog doesn't get a lot of traffic and I really want to talk about this thing that I've noticed in recent YA novel releases. 

Right. So it's really not all that big a deal. At least, not to me, and not to thousands of other fangirls all over the world. 

Over the last few years, there have been quite a large number of YA authors that have begun adding gay characters to their cast of colourful personalities. To name a few we have Cassandra Clare of The Mortal Instruments fame (Who's cast of homosexual characters is soon going to be growing, I believe), P.C & Kristin Cast, the mother/daughter team who are responsible for The House of Night series about tattooed vampyres, Tamora Pierce added both a gay man and his trans-sexual lover to her Beka Cooper series a few years back, and there are many more. The most recent author to jump on this Bandwagon is Rick Riordan, author of the BRILLIANT, Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series. And here is where I think we've hit a snag. And by the by, if you haven't read Riordan's books, you really should. You're missing out. 

And here is the snag, at least as I see it. 

Clare, the Casts, & Pierce all write predominantly for young women and girls. Ignoring the fact that my Dad reads and enjoys them, the average teenage boy is probably not going to pick up a book about vampires, werewolves, angels, or generally anything with a female lead, because I think that teenage boys probably don't want to be reading about the problems of the average teenage girl, be they romantic or biological (Thank you Tamora Pierce, we love you for being unafraid to talk about it!) My best guess, and I know there are likely to be exceptions, is that boys will find it harder to identify with a female character than a male one. Although I'm not sure it works the same way for girls reading about male characters, because it never really bothered me.
The point I'm trying to make is that these female authors are gearing their writing towards girls, so they try to create strong female protgonists (Which to be perfectly honest, I think only Tamora Pierce has truly succeeded at), and there is often a gay character, because most girls think the realtionships between the gay characters is adorable (And often more interesting than the main character's romance). 

Aside from the fact that Riordan's female characters are waaaaay better written than at least two of the three female writers I have mentioned (I find it a little tragic that a male author writes a better 'strong female character' than most female authors, you rock, Uncle Rick!), Riordan has an interesting fan base: Both boys and girls like his books. I'm fairly certain that initially his books were designed to appeal to boys, but he has managed to achieve that rare thing in YA Novels... an essentially evenly gendered following. 

Which is also where the divide that I'm seeing comes in. Riordan has handled his 'gay character' differently, in the sense that he has 'outed' an old character rather than introducing a new one or having a character that's been openly gay from the beginning. This has caused a HUGE amount of upset, mostly in the male half of his fans.

Please let me say, before I write any more, that not every guy in this fandom has a problem with the evolution of this character. There are some awesome guys out there telling the others to grow up and get over it. There are also some girls I have seen raging about this character.

Also, there might be some spoilers ahead, just letting you know.

I've been hanging around the Facebook groups for Riordan's books, and I think the most frustrating thing about it for me is all these kids who say that Nico was their favourite character, until he was gay. I want to know how they think being gay changes a person's personality, or their likeability, either in fiction or in real life. If their best friend came out to them tomorrow, would they say the same thing? Well you're gay so we can't be friends any more? Is their identity as a 'man' so thrown of kilter by a fictional character that they have to spew out hate to a generally accepting community? The worst part is, most of these kids are under eighteen, which means it unlikely that they've formed this opinion on their own, they've picked it up from someone else; a parent, or a teacher, or peer, or an older kid they look up to. 

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure they'd have such an issue with it if it weren't for the fact that Nico admitted in The House of Hades that he had feeling for main character Percy. The resulting 'ship' from Nico's outing himself was Percy/Nico, also called Perico. I think a lot of it is that they don't like the idea of people in the fandom supporting a relationship between main protagonist Percy Jackson and Nico. 

Well, here is my message to these people: People shipped Perico long before Nico was 'outed'. Fangirls don't need an excuse, just a couple of good looking boys. Trust me.

The great thing is, the rest of the fandom doesn't tolerate their intolerance, most stating that they are welcome to their opinions on Nico and his sexuality, but telling them not to spam people's artwork and cosplays with hate, because everyone else has accepted and moved on, even if they don't ship Perico. Plenty of people like Perico but still ship Percabeth (Percy & Annabeth), which is the canon pairing. I myself am in this category. I think that Perico is completely adorable, and I love reading Perico fanfiction, but Riordan has (again, a rare occurrence for me) written an extremely wonderful canon pairing, and that's mostly because Annabeth is wonderful, because she doesn't simper over Percy like so many other female protagonists do, she tells him he's an idiot but that she loves him anyway. 

I honestly don't understand why all these kids are so worked up. Nico is not there to end up with Percy, even I have to admit that Riordan would likely be shooting himself in the foot with that one, because Percabeth is great and should not be tampered with. I think it's main function was to give Nico a separate identity to the other characters, to be more that just the 'son of Hades', because in a book full of demigods this really isn't that impressive. There are other complexities to Nico's character that makes being gay even harder to deal with, but you should totally go and read the books to find out what that is. 

So, all you guys out there hating on Riordan and Nico because of this, don't panic, Nico being gay is not suddenly going to turn all the other male characters in the books gay too. It certainly doesn't mean that Nico and Percy are going to start hooking up. It simply means that Nico is gay. Nothing more, nothing less.

My hopes for Nico? That he'll meet some devastatingly handsome demigod guy that thinks he's the love of his life and sweeps him off his angsty little emo feet. Because I love Nico and everyone, fictional or not, deserves that. 

So are gay characters really that big a deal? No way.

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